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The COVID-19 Shopping Experience

Updated: Apr 28

Growing up in a 100-person town in northeastern Montana, I knew social isolation well. It wasn’t the same as the social distancing we’re all currently implementing, by any means. However, we had to survive when we were surrounded by nothing but wheat fields and dirt roads. We brought food to the homebound and plowed each other out so we could get to work and school. Families opened their homes to the stranded when the roads were impassable. Neighbors simply helped neighbors.


Our town’s small, family-owned grocery store closed when I was in elementary school. The next option was 42 miles round trip, so my family always made our shopping trips count. Needless to say, I was raised to know how to stock up on necessities. So, this latest COVID-19 craze of buying in bulk is nothing new to me. I’ve always had toilet paper on my shopping list!


City Shopping

I had my first COVID-19 grocery shopping experience mid-March. I had heard toilet paper was a highly sought-after item, so I thought I'd try to be first in line when Costco opened. When I made my way to the back of the store, there stood the Billings police chief himself, along with another officer. They were stationed between the water and the toilet paper! An employee placed one container of toilet paper in each customer's cart, and we efficiently moved along in a single-file line and circled around to the next aisle. Oddly enough, I was in and out of Costco in 13 minutes. That never happens!

At the time, mask-wearing was not yet popular. However, out of an abundance of caution, I decided to grab a mask out of an old stash I had bought probably 15 years ago. I was concerned that I would be shamed, as the news at the time was dictating that the masks be saved for healthcare workers. However, everyone was focused on their own experience, leaving little interaction with others. During this first COVID-19 Costco trip, I remember seeing only two other people in the entire store with a mask. A month later, most people are wearing masks in public. It's interesting how public perception has changed so rapidly.


Groceries for Neighbors

At our house, we'll be out of toilet paper in about three weeks. Our pets have enough food for about two more months. And we have more frozen food in our freezers than we'll probably ever get through - even during this shelter-in-place phase.


Yet, not everyone is so fortunate. That's why I decided to take an Easter surprise to a friend. I brought her toilet paper, paper towels, vegetables, snacks, pet food - you name it! She was absolutely thrilled about the treats, and she loved that I had thought of her. And it made me feel so fulfilled to have been able to do that for her. COVID-19 has done a good job of reminding me that, well, it's not all about me. We have to continue to look out for our neighbors.


Looking ahead, I'll continue to dread leaving the house to pick up food or mail an important package. I'll wipe down my car and sanitize my hands as I go. And each time I return home, I'll wonder what germs I'm bringing with me that may affect my family. However, I'll continue to bring this friend groceries. And I'll continue to look for ways to help others who may need extra assistance during this time. While we all look forward to having COVID-19 be a pandemic of the past, maybe the changes we make as a result won't be so bad, after all.


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© 2015 by GILLETTE VAIRA